Every bellydance instructor is aware that there are two types of students.
There are casual students, who come to class for a little exercise and girlfriend time, who like to perform with friends at an occasional hafla but aren't very serious about the art form. I think 80-90% of bellydance students fall into this category (and that's a conservative estimate).
And there are serious students, who fall in love with the art of bellydance, have great respect for it, and are driven to excel.
It's important to recognize which type of student you are, so you can find a teacher who meets your needs. Serious students usually know who they are — they are obsessed. Casual students have a harder time self-identifying, because of course they don't want to dance badly. They often make sacrifices to get to class and sometimes practice very hard for shows. But their relationships to the dance are different.
A casual student will be miserable with a serious teacher, who demands a great deal of homework and dedication from her students and doesn't tolerate anyone holding the group back. The student may languish for years in a beginner class and never be promoted, or may feel embarrassed when she's singled out for more public correction than she wants. The casual student wants time to socialize and make friends, and she wants performance opportunities that are attainable with minimal rehearsal.
A serious student, on the other hand, will be miserable in a class that doesn't challenge her, that rehashes lessons endlessly because most of the students aren't practicing, and that never offers truly advanced material. She will not be happy to perform alongside underrehearsed classmates who didn't 'earn' the opportunity to be onstage. And she will crave feedback and correction.
After more than a decade of teaching, I've learned how to identify a student almost immediately. These are the signs I've learned to watch for:
- Do you seek out opportunities to watch professional bellydancers?
Attendance at professional shows is the single biggest factor, in my experience, that seems to determine how far a dancer will go. I can tell which students will make my Master Class, or be considered for my pro troupe, just by watching their attendance at shows they're not performing in.
Some people like to dance. Others have fallen madly in love with this art form. The ones who love the art have an insatiable appetite for watching it being done well. They watch youtube clips daily. They know the names of all the famous dancers in their favorite genre. But they also love to see the dance performed live. They go to restaurant shows at least once a month. They travel to other cities to attend shows. They are always in the audience of workshop shows, even if they can't get to the workshop. They buy not only instructional DVDs, but performance DVDs as well.
All this exposure to dance reveals their love of bellydance, but also informs it. They learn the nuances of the dance, and they are able to recreate that in their bodies.
Casual students usually only go to shows they are performing in. Their interest is in being onstage, rather than in the art form. They enjoy seeing their friends perform, and like to be supportive of them, but they don't yearn for exposure to great dancing.
- Do you practice outside of class, even when there isn't a show coming up?
There's a platitude that greatness takes 10 years or 10,000 hours, and it's certainly true of bellydance. Serious students are almost constantly listening to bellydance music as they move around their houses. They are dancing while they vacuum, while they do dishes, while they tidy up. They love to find new ways to move, and new music that inspires them. They buy DVDs or find youtube clips that offer new ways to master technique. They run through every choreography they know from time to time, to keep them fresh. Casual students rehearse only their classwork, and usually only choreographies for upcoming shows.
- Do you listen to lots of bellydance music (whatever that means to you) and dream up new ideas for solos?
Casual students tend to enjoy working with dances that someone else has created. Serious students are fascinated by the interplay of movement with music and feel compelled to find new ways to match the two. Serious students are always hunting for new music to inspire them and may accumulate dozens or hundreds of bellydance tracks in a short time. They stretch themselves, try out different styles. They always have a piece or two in the works, even if it's in a preparatory stage.
Teachers tend to attract the students who are right for them over time. But a student who signs up with the wrong kind of teacher might have such bad experiences that she gives up without trying out other teachers, and that is unfortunate.
Serious students are often driven enough to keep looking for the right teacher, or even to study on their own with DVDs, workshops and private lessons.
But a casual student who feels thwarted when she's not allowed to progress through levels or perform in a show, or who feels publicly humiliated when corrected repeatedly in class, will likely drop out of dance altogether, and that is sad.
Serious students need teachers who can challenge them, correct their technique, and move them toward their goals. Casual students need to be accepted as they are, allowed to socialize during class, and provided with plenty of safe performance opportunities. A good teacher will offer them haflas and recitals where they can dance for a closed group of friends and family, performing at whatever skill level they've achieved, but will never put them onstage at a public festival or event.
Be honest with yourself about your goals and it will become much easier to find the teacher who is perfect for you.